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Planning Season Shifts Into High Gear

STEVE BROWN, alabama

Steve Brown
Alabama

I don’t like thick stands of cotton. What looks just right in May is too thick in August. And I sure don’t like hill-dropping that results in three or more plants per hill. I can’t stand spindly stalks. Think outside the box with me. First, I acknowledge that my experiences are biased by cotton in the southern extremes of the belt.

This region typically provides for favorable conditions early and throughout the planting calendar and often a long season to mature a crop.

In the mid-1990s when we were entering the transgenic era and knew seed costs were about to escalate, we asked, “How low can we go?” in regard to seeding rates. More recently, Curtis Adams et al from Texas published a review in which they examined data from 15 cotton trials in the United States (12) and China (3). Locations included Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.

They concluded that the low-end breaking point in which yields were affected was a population of 14,306 plants per acre, and that “yield does not increase above this density threshold.” For a 36-inch row, this is just below 1 plant per foot; for a 40-inch row, that’s 1.1 plants per foot. I know of no farmer who plants 1 seed per foot. Most I encounter target 2 to 3 seeds per foot.

However, these trials should give you confidence to experiment. If you’re planting 36,000 seeds per acre, you could reduce it to 32,000… You get the idea.

Here are a few tempering thoughts:

• Any reduction in seeding rates increases pressure on planter performance and seed quality. Don’t take risks in poor conditions — field, equipment or weather.

• Make sure planters are dropping seed accurately.

• Check seed germ data. Request cool and warm germ numbers. Anything above 70 cool is pretty good; above 80 is really strong.

• Some growers counter that thin stands don’t pick clean.

Think. Plan. Prepare. cottonbrown@auburn.edu

Bill Robertson, Arkansas

Bill Robertson,
Arkansas

Cash margin information for all commodities is very tight and has little room for mistakes. We must be smart to get the most out of our inputs. We need to watch costs yet provide necessary inputs to protect yield potential.

Variety selection for yield and quality is an important first step in establishing yield potential. There are a number of resources available to assist in selecting new varieties. A useful tool is the University Variety Testing Program. Results from the Arkansas trials conducted by Dr. Fred Bourland may be found at https://arkansas-variety-testing.uark.edu/. County demonstrations are another good source of information and are included with this data set. It is also appropriate to evaluate variety performance trials from neighboring states in the Mid-South.

Other practices to protect yield potential include matching nutrient applications to crop requirements, using integrated pest management tools to manage pests, fine-tuning irrigation scheduling, and using tools like Pipe Planner that can increase efficiency.

Following end-of-season termination guidelines coupled with variety selection to help ensure we can get a picker in the field by mid-September is another important consideration. This will help us to hold onto the yield potential we have worked to build all season while meeting our harvest completion goal of Nov. 1.

Contact your county Extension agent for information or to get assistance in improving efficiency and profitability. brobertson@uaex.edu

Randy Norton

Randy Norton
Arizona

The hot, dry climate of our Arizona cotton-growing region brings many benefits. One centers on the fact we have very few plant diseases — particularly foliar diseases — that affect our crop. A few instances of Alternaria leaf spot or southwest cotton rust will occur occasionally in our higher elevation production systems, but typically our disease pressure is relatively low.

We do have one major soil-borne fungus that is of concern in our desert cotton production systems. Under certain conditions, it can be devastating to the crop. This fungal pathogen is Phymatotrichopsis omnivora, or cotton root rot. It is found in nearly all soils across the state but is most closely related to alluvial soils near old streams and river beds.

The disease typically infests the crop’s root system toward the latter part of the season. We begin to see symptoms in late July and early August. Research done over the past several years has indicated good results in controlling the fungus using the fungicide flutriafol, with the trade name TopGuard Terra.

This pathogen is found in the same place in the field every year and can be somewhat patchy in nature. Developing application maps is an effective technique for using precision fungicide placement for control only in areas where the pathogen exists. Reviewing satellite imagery, yield maps or aerial drone imagery can reveal these locations. Maps developed from the imagery can then be used to make targeted fungicide applications.

Now is the time to develop those maps from last year’s data and make plans to treat for the disease in 2020. For more information, go to cals.arizona.edu/crops. rnorton@cals.arizona.edu

Bob Hutmacher

Bob Hutmacher
California

Near the end of 2019, rain and snow accumulations seemed headed toward below-average. With the arrival of a few storm systems in January that at least provided some mountain snow, we hope there will be more favorable weather patterns as we head into the 2020 San Joaquin Valley planting season.

Irrigation water supply issues are never a done deal in California, so hopefully this year will bring the release of workable amounts of water for the state’s cotton farmers. Uncertainty in irrigation water supplies results in a range of strategies for pre-plant and early season irrigations. These will affect irrigation scheduling and strategies for the rest of the growing season.

Changes in cropping patterns continue in the SJV due to additions of perennial crop acreage (trees, vines). It can be useful to consider new ideas about where cotton could fit into your production plans and allocated acreage. If you need to shift a portion of water earmarked for annual crops to cover perennial crops, remember that most cotton varieties can be managed to shorten the growing season.

This is done through reductions/delays in irrigation and more aggressive plant growth regulator applications. It also can be accomplished more easily with drip irrigation than with furrow irrigation.

Across different soil types where rooting depths and water-holding capacity differ, cotton varieties and types (Upland, Pima) can differ in how much you can shorten the growing season to reduce water use, which can affect yield and quality. On-farm strip trials to evaluate these options with multiple varieties on your own operation may be a worthwhile effort.

If you have to rely on back-up or primary water supplies with moderate levels of salt-related issues, keep in mind that while we know the relative salinity tolerance of cotton is very good compared with most other agronomic crops, there aren’t many recent evaluations that look at relative salt tolerance of current cotton varieties for the SJV. This again suggests value in strip trials or other on-farm variety comparisons with more saline water sources. rbhutmacher@ucdavis.edu

David Wright, Florida

David Wright,
Florida

As spring planting season gets closer, farmers must make decisions on how to manage cover crops. These include when to terminate and how long should it be grazed if used for grazing and a fertilizer/lime source.

Also, rates and placement are important considerations for the following cotton crop. Cover crops help control erosion and retain residual nutrients from previous crops as well as provide a source of food for soil microbial populations.

Our studies indicate that having a couple of species in the cover crop mix is good for winter grazing as some species survive better under cold conditions or dry versus wet conditions.

The same is true for cover crops used solely for cover crops. In most cases where covers are used for grazing, little residue is left to plant into. Our data indicates 150-400 pounds per acre more lint from these fields than where the cover crop is left as cover and not grazed.

Weed management is another important consideration. Every field tends to have different weed populations that require prescriptive management. Map fields at harvest according to weed species and have a plan for each field before the season begins for both pre- and post-emergence weed control. This can result in fewer escapes and less money spent on less-than-optimum options for post-emergence weed control. wright@ufl.edu

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi

Darrin Dodds,
Mississippi

The beginning of 2020 feels like part of the same nightmare we experienced in spring 2019. Rain, tornadoes and unseasonably warm weather have dominated 2020 to this point. Planting season is still a few months away; however, if the past eight or nine years are any indication, little cotton is likely to be planted prior to May 1.

The next two to three months should provide ample time to evaluate budgets, resource allocation, etc. The importance of variety selection has been discussed ad nauseam (a former cotton specialist taught me that term). There is ample data available on which to base variety selection decisions.

Mississippi farmers employ a wide range of seeding rates. Some growers on the Gulf Coast drop as few as 29,000 seeds per acre whereas a few folks still seed upward of 55,000 seeds per acre.

Exceptional cotton yields can be achieved with as few as 15,000 healthy, evenly spaced plants per acre. I am not advocating dropping seeding rates this low, but if you have stand issues, many times we can get by with less than we think.

Also, warm and cold germination trends for cotton seed have been trending downward in recent years. But for the most part, the seed we plant tends to be quite good. If you are considering dropping seeding rates, make sure the seed you are planting is the highest quality possible. dmd76@pss.msstate.edu

Calvin Meeks, Missouri

Calvin Meeks,
Missouri

Missouri producers had a bumpy ride with the wet season we had and a cool, wet start to winter. But high yields were a good Christmas present for the year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Cotton and Wool Outlook released on Nov.11 estimated the statewide average yield at 1,265 pounds per acre, so there is a lot to be thankful for.

The 2018 yield was revised to a new record average of 1,373 pounds per acre. So even with the wet year that was 2019, yields were estimated to be the second highest average lint on record. Hopefully, rain will be spread more evenly in 202 with better planting conditions in the spring and a drier fall.

Since now is crunch time to make variety decisions and fine-tune fertilizer and herbicide practices, I encourage you to visit my blog at mizzoucotton.wordpress.com. If you missed the Missouri Cotton Production and Outlook Conference at Fisher Delta Research Center Jan. 22, review the blog for the most up-to-date research data available for Missouri producers.

The Cotton Conference presentations and additional data on variety performance and seedling vigor are available on the blog as well. Consult the data to help make variety selections, and do not commit all of your acreage to later maturing varieties in the event an early frost occurs. Strive to plant varieties that have high yield stability for our area to help mitigate risk for the crop. meeksc@missouri.edu

Dan Fromme, Louisiana

Dan Fromme,
Louisiana

In Louisiana and across the Cotton Belt, thrips are the No. 1 early season seedling cotton pest. According to Dr. Sebe Brown, entomologist with the Louisiana State University AgCenter, tobacco thrips compose the primary species infesting Louisiana cotton while western flower thrips are often present at lower numbers.

He says with the absence of aldicarb (although we now have a commercially available aldicarb replacement named AgLogic), insecticide seed treatments now dominate the early season cotton insect pest management landscape.

As of 2019, there are only two seed treatment options: acephate and neonicotinoids. Imidacloprid and thiamethoxam are the two most commonly used neonicotinoids, and these treatments are offered alone or in combination with nematicides. Based on bioassay data generated over the past seven years, the LSU AgCenter does not recommend thiamethoxam alone as a seed treatment for cotton because tobacco thrips have developed resistance to it.

However, imidacloprid is still effective. When used in conjunction with the insecticide/nematicide thiodicarb (Aeris), it provides good thrips control. If Aeris is not an option, imidacloprid overtreated with acephate (6.4 oz/cwt) is another viable treatment. Acephate alone will control thrips. However, acephate has a significantly shorter residual than imidacloprid and the probability of returning with a foliar application is very high.

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If you elect to overtreat cotton seed with acephate, the seed cannot be returned. In-furrow applications of imidacloprid also work well to control thrips. Four pounds of imidacloprid at 9.2 ounces per acre or 2 pounds material at 19 ounces per acre provide excellent thrips control. AgLogic — the generic replacement for Temik — has demonstrated satisfactory control of thrips at the 3.3 and 4-pounds-per-acre rate.

Under Louisiana growing conditions, Dr. Trey Price, plant pathologist with the LSU AgCenter, recommends the following tips on fungicide seed treatments for Rhizoctonia solani, Pythium spp., Fusarium spp., and Thielaviopsis basicola.

• Do not plant without a fungicide seed treatment.

 Use best management practices to avoid seedling disease. BMPs include planting high-quality seed, crop rotation, and planting when soil temperatures and the five-day forecast are favorable.

• Even the best seed treatments can fail under high disease pressure. Price stresses that in most situations, a base fungicide treatment offered by a seed company will be adequate.

• Do your homework to figure out what is on the seed before deciding to add an additional fungicide. The more you put on the seed, the more expensive the option. dfromme@agcenter.lsu.edu

Keith Edmisten

Keith Edmisten
North Carolina

Many growers have probably heard that the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services is initiating a first-ever pilot program for cotton seed quality testing beginning in the 2020 season. This is in response to what appears to be a decrease in cottonseed quality over the past few years.

Cottonseed quality can vary within a year and between years, primarily due to environmental conditions where the seed is produced. NCDA&CS will try to test each lot of seed that comes into North Carolina, and the companies have agreed to notify the department when and where their seed will enter the state.

What can growers do to help the program succeed and provide them with good seed quality information? First, order your seed early to give NCDA&CS time to perform tests and provide results before planting. Secondly, farmers need to realize that as hard as companies try to provide high-quality seed, some seed lots can be of higher quality than others.

Knowing the actual seed quality can help growers if they match seed quality with planting conditions and are willing to adjust planting rates with seed quality and planting conditions. The Cotton Planting Conditions Calculator can be found at http://climate.ncsu.edu/cotton_planting. keith_edmisten@ncsu.edu

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma

Seth Byrd,
Oklahoma

The big question in Oklahoma as we look to the 2020 cotton season is “How many acres are we going to have?” Even recently, this number has fluctuated greatly due to a variety of factors. While 2019 was shaping up to be a big acreage year in the state, with the low end of predictions hovering around 800,000 acres, poor spring weather prevented much cotton, or anything else, from being planted.

Favorable markets and weather could provide more optimism for cotton this year. While most estimates have Oklahoma back around 600,000 to 620,000 acres for the season, this number could swell depending on interest in the north central and eastern parts of the state.

There will be several excellent opportunities in February for those interested in cotton production in some of the less traditional cotton areas of Oklahoma to discuss agronomic practices and other concerns. For producers in the Panhandle, the Crops Clinic will take place at the Oklahoma Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Goodwell, Feb. 11.

For those in northern Oklahoma, the first-ever Great Plains Cotton Conference will be held Feb. 25-26 in Wichita, Kansas. For more information, contact your Oklahoma State University county Extension office. seth.byrd@okstate.edu

Tyson Raper, Tennessee

Tyson Raper,
Tennessee

At each of Tennessee’s winter meetings, I’m covering research results on cultivar selection, fertility, seeding rates and plant growth management. Throughout the past year, I’ve seen the possibility to reduce input costs or increase return on investment by making slight adjustments in each of these areas.

To summarize, the variety selection decision needs to be driven by data and experience. Sulfur has become a bigger issue in West Tennessee as atmospheric deposition continues to decline. As yields increase, many are tempted to increase applied fertilizer nitrogen. From my observations, we likely need to look more closely at increasing potassium than increasing nitrogen.

Seeding rates for our area are typically higher than required to maintain excellent yield potential. Finally, plant growth management needs to start earlier and more aggressively on many acres. I encourage you to take a close look at your operation to make sure your decisions in each of these areas are calculated and data based.

To hear more about research conducted in each of these areas, catch me at one of our county meetings or attend our upcoming Cotton Focus meeting on Feb. 13 starting at 8 a.m. at the West Tennessee Research and Education Center in Jackson. traper@utk.edu

Murilo Maeda

Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

With harvest concluded in the Texas High Plains, our attention turns to planning for the next season. In general, yields across the region were lower than initially expected due to extremely hot, dry conditions, especially during July and August.

In and around Lubbock, our preliminary Replicated Agronomic Cotton Evaluation trial results (two irrigated sites and five dryland and light water), as of early January show yields ranging from 0.25 to 0.8 bales per acre (average 0.6 bale per acre) for dryland and light water, and 1 to 3.1 bales per acre (average 2 bales per acre) for irrigated trials. Although these results are based on a limited number of locations, I believe they broadly depict yields across much of the region.

While West Texas growers may be a couple months away from putting down the first seed, folks in South Texas are not that far out. The 2019 season brought many challenges to the region, and #plant20 is just around the corner. Dr. Katie Lewis (associate professor of soil fertility and chemistry, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Lubbock) says this is the time to begin planning your nutrient management program.

The first step to maximize fertilizer use efficiency is to collect soil samples and determine plant available macro- and micronutrients. Macronutrients are nitrate-N, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Micronutrients are boron, copper, iron, manganese and zinc. Collect samples at a zero to 6-inch depth for both. If possible, collect an additional sample at 6 to 12 inches for macronutrients. Adjust your fertility program to match realistic yield goals.

In February, AgriLife Research and Extension personnel will deliver up-to-date information on lessons learned this past season. Reach out to us or your county agent with topics you are interested in. Check with your Extension office for a meeting near you and make plans to attend. Results from the Texas RACE trials by region should be available at http://varietytesting.tamu.edu/cotton/ by the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you. mmaeda@ag.tamu.edu